About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is an attorney who gave up the active practice of law to edit and author books and articles for Nolo. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

How to Make Your Nonprofit’s Emails Stand Out on Days Like Giving Tuesday

clock and faceAlthough it has been around only since 2012, Giving Tuesday (on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving) has become the established “opening day” for year-end online donations to nonprofit organizations.

Last year (in 2015) for example, almost 700,000 online donors collectively gave over $116 million dollars to charitable causes, according to a report by ImpactLab.

Suffice it to say that no nonprofit wants to be left out of the action. And judging from the number of emails in my inbox this morning (they haven’t stopped yet!) most nonprofits have realized this fact. The sheer number of emails is verging on annoying–problematic, as it might lead some recipients to give up and delete the whole lot.

But politely staying out of the fray is no longer a realistic option. So the question becomes, how can a nonprofit distinguish itself from the others within an email subject line or (if it’s lucky and the recipient actually opens it) within the short space of an email?

Here’s what I’m observing various groups trying:

  • Matching gifts. Subject lines like, “Donations matched for Giving Tuesday!”, “Urgent: Your gift will go twice the distance today,” and “3-1 Match for Giving Tuesday Only” are so common that they hardly attract attention. But on the plus side, if a donor was already thinking about making a gift to a particular group, seeing a time-delimited match might tip the balance. Matching gifts also offer a subtle way with which to establish a group’s credibility, if the donor offering the match is well respected.
  • Specific reminders of what a gift will support. With every other nonprofit asking for money to help its cause, it can be eye-catching to see something like, “Send a Girl to School for $58” or “$50 will plant five native trees.”
  • An end-of-day goal. The National Wildlife Federation, for example, set a goal of receiving sufficient donations with which to “plant 5,000 native trees, in order to help wildlife survive and thrive for years to come.” On the one hand, such a goal seems rather arbitrary (couldn’t it wait until tomorrow?); on the other hand, it effectively reminds donors what their collective response can achieve.
  • Humor and/or baby seals. I did enjoy Oceana’s email subject line: “There’s a sea lion pup who wants you to open this email.” The photo inside is, of course, adorable. (Those baby seal pictures never get old!)

Sad to say, some of the email subject lines are just plain dull, such as, “Today we celebrate Giving Tuesday.” (That’s the only one I saved long enough to quote!) But at least that nonprofit didn’t sit this year’s Giving Tuesday out!

Trump Plan to Cap Itemized Deductions a Concern for Nonprofits

As has been widely reported, President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan to change the U.S. tax system includes placing a cap on itemized deductions–$100,000 for a single person, and $200,000 for a married couple.

Sound like plenty to cover your deductions? (It sure is for mine.)

But we all have cause for concern about the impact on U.S. nonprofit organizations, because charitable donations are on the list of potential U.S. tax deductions.

Suddenly, the wealthiest of donors will have less incentive to give. And there’s no question that tax deductions form a part, though not all, of donors’ motivations to give (witness the end-of-year donation rush).

This is especially troubling news when issued around the same time as a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, finding that recent growth in philanthropic giving is concentrated among a handful of high-income, high-wealth donors, while giving by lower- and middle-income donors is steadily declining–mirroring the increasing concentration of societal wealth.

If I were in charge of a nonprofit right now, I’d work extra hard on that end-of-year 2016 campaign to my wealthiest donors!

Online Places to Do Holiday Shopping for a Cause

holiday lightsA shout-out to Nonprofit Tech for Good for compiling a list of 30 Online Stores That Benefit Nonprofits, just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season.

My family could have used this the year I announced (in classic Berkeley style) that I wanted to reduce consumerism and overconsumption by having us give and get only gifts from nonprofits that year.

I think I confused them. I received things like shrunken wool sweaters from Goodwill.

Perhaps, like many people I’ve met, they have no idea what a nonprofit actually is. Fortunately, Nolo has an answer for that.

But the technical definition can’t possibly reflect the great variety of nonprofits that exist in the U.S., from service organizations with an online store on the side to museums and hospitals to Goodwill and its ilk.

You’ll find all of those on the list above, plus a few websites that are dedicated to selling goods and then forwarding the profits to various nonprofit organizations and causes.

Now, if only I could try on one of those beanies . . . .

If Obama Was “Deporter in Chief,” What Will Trump Be?

10year92_lgDuring President-Elect Donald Trump’s November 13, 2016 “60 Minutes” interview, he vowed to immediately deport up to three million immigrants. According to him, the U.S. needs to remove people who “are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers.”

It sounds like a bold plan—but is it different from existing policy?

During President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, he earned the nickname “Deporter in Chief” from various immigration advocacy groups. His administration reportedly deported more than 2.5 million people from the United States.

And that doesn’t count the million-plus undocumented people who left the U.S. voluntarily or “self-deported” in recent years—in the case of Mexico, numbers that a Pew report said were higher than the number entering, as of late 2015.

And who, exactly, was tops on the list for the Obama administration’s deportation efforts? You can read the list yourself, in a 2011 memo by the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The memo explains that ICE’s top enforcement priorities (given that the agency lacks the resources with which to deport or remove every undocumented or otherwise deportable immigrant in the United States) include:

  • individuals who pose a clear risk to national security
  • serious felons, repeat offenders, or individuals with a lengthy criminal record of any kind
  • known gang members or other individuals who pose a clear danger to public safety, and
  • individuals with an egregious record of immigration violations, including those with a record of illegal re-entry and those who have engaged in immigration fraud.

Sound familiar? But according to Donald Trump, there are still three million criminals who haven’t been deported. Except that his numbers don’t seem to have a verifiable source. According to a 2015 study from the Migration Policy Institute, there are a mere 300,000 first-priority undocumented felons in the U.S. and 390,000 “serious misdemeanants.”

It’s little wonder that immigrants’ rights groups are raising concerns that Trump’s intention is to create a pretext with which to justify massive deportations regardless of criminal backgrounds.

Fewer First-Time Buyers Than Ever Entering U.S. Housing Market

htbh5_1_1The latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (2015) from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) contains a stark statistical representation of how difficult it is for young (and possibly not so young) people to buy their first home: only 32% of buyers were first-timers last year. That’s the lowest share since 1987, when it came in at 30%.

The reasons are widely known and discussed: high home prices (and therefore needed down payments), low inventory of homes for sale, underemployment, and high (in many cases crushing) student debt loads.

Is it really so impossible to enter the U.S. real estate market? True, with median home prices across the United States at over $200,000—with some areas of the U.S. far, far above that (such as California, where the median is over $400,000)—we’re talking some serious dollars no matter who you are.

But it may also be that some people have simply been scared out of the market.

For example, Lisa Shaffer, Loan Advisor at RPM Mortgage in Alamo, California, told Nolo that one of the most satisfying things about her work is “when I can help get someone get into a home who doubted they could afford one at all. Some clients of ours have had a good income but not much saved up for a down payment, and we’ve been able to find them first-time buyer programs (either through the government or through niche programs offered by banks) to help them buy a home sooner than they’d thought possible.”

Another hopeful thing about the current housing market is that, while a 20% down payment is widely referred to as the norm, most first-time buyers don’t actually pay that much. The same NAR survey found that first-time buyers are putting an average of 6% down.

For help with the challenges of breaking into the real estate market, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.

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